Read Part 1
I have some introvert tendencies
So why do I want to write a book so badly? If I'd rather be out collaborating with people, why not just teach, drum, and be satisfied with my life? Because I have introvert tendencies. Namely, I'm a bookworm.
The other weekend I went to my in-law's cabin with my husband, his parents, his siblings and all their kids. Do you remember the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding? Yeah, his family is like that. Big. Loud. In your business. And loving, of course! My family is quite small in comparison, and when we get together, we usually keep to ourselves and/or do our own thing.
While at the cabin, I decided to pull out a book and read. Someone asked if I was unhappy. Had I been offended? Hardly! I just wanted to read! I felt very similar to Susan Cain who did the same thing at her summer camp when she was 9. Her camp director questioned what she was doing and encouraged her to be more outgoing, so Susan Cain put her books away. She says, "I felt kind of guilty...as if the books needed me somehow, and they were calling out to me and I was forsaking them."
I wasn't being anti-social when I decided to read at the cabin, I promise. I love my husband's family... our family. I just wanted some reading time. Thinking time. Alone time. Extroverts do that, too, you know. We don't crave it as much, maybe, but we enjoy it every once in a while.
As quoted by Susan Cain, "Carl Jung, the psychologist who first popularized these terms, said that there's no such thing as a pure introvert or a pure extrovert. He said that such a man would be in a lunatic asylum, if he existed at all." (emphasis added)
A little bit of both is normal
When I was an RA, a psychologist talked with us about all this introvert-extrovert stuff. As counselors, we'd have the tricky task of mentoring and solving problems with the residents that lived in our hall and collaborating with each other on projects. Naturally, we'd need to learn how to work with introverts and extroverts. We'd also need to know which we were. (This is where I learned that I'm mostly an extrovert.)
In fact, some circumstances have forced us into using our non-dominant personality so much that we've become quite strong in it.
Learning to be a better introvert
As mentioned, I love collaborating and talking with people. It's where I get my best energy. When I was in 5th grade, my mom decided to go back to college. I was the youngest, so my siblings were all in junior high or high school. Dad had to work, so when I got home, I was alone. I hated it at first. I was bored, lonely and wanted someone to talk to. Like the good Hermione Granger I was, though, I decided to get my homework done while I waited for my sisters and parents to get home. It worked out great! I got my obligated-introvert-work out of the way before they got home, and then I'd be free to bug them!
I also started reading and writing more, just for fun! I always liked reading. Dad read to us when we were little. And I liked making up stories with my friends, so I probably had read and written stuff before this, but I think being forced into an introvert situation made me better at these hobbies.
Bringing it full circle
Like Susan Cain, I believe both personality types are important. One isn't more superior than another. There's value in doing extrovert and introvert things. Life would be pretty boring if we all were the same. So this is where I bring my musings full circle, back to how this all affects my writing.
Susan Cain says, "when psychologists look at the lives of the most creative people, what they find are people who are very good at exchanging ideas and advancing ideas, but who also have a serious streak of introversion in them." If you asked my close friends, they'd probably tell you that I'm pretty creative. Of course, creativity is like a muscle. It must be exercised.
So, I'm going to get back into my bathtub now and start rowing across the Atlantic Ocean. It's not the most comfortable thing for me. It's like an introvert speaking in public, really. But I can do it. And the more I do it, the better I'll get at it.
I watched an interesting TedTalk this morning. It's called "The Power of Introverts" by Susan Cain. It got me thinking about writing and the solo nature of the craft, so you get to hear my musings in this post.
A fellow ESL teacher told me to watch Susan Cain's talk. I didn't want to at first because I'm an extrovert, and all the Facebook memes I see about empowering introverts seem to slap me (an extrovert) in the face. They usually send the message that "Introverts are better! Get over yourself, extroverts! Stop being so loud and pushy!" I didn't want to watch an entire TedTalk about that and feel like rubbish because I like concerts and collaboration. I don't think extroverts are all loud and pushy.
I finally watched it because, as my coworker pointed out, a lot of our students are introvert. And it's important to understand where they're coming from and accommodate for their needs. Yes, after watching this video I feel like I have some ideas for how I want to transform my ESL classroom to better suit introverts. (After all, Susan Cain says that 1/3-1/2 of the population is introvert.) I also discovered, however one of the possible reasons why I frequently get writer's block. (Tom Laveen calls it "project-block.") My extroversion tendencies may be getting in the way of me becoming a published author. I'll explain my epiphany.
Sailing alone in a bathtub
I'm an extrovert. Yes. I think we've established that. I want to collaborate and talk ideas out. This is a good quality for a writer, actually. My creative writing teacher Josh says that revision is super collaborative. You need peer review, tough skin, and lots of collaboration with an editor and an agent. But as Stephen King says, the actual writing itself is a lonely journey. He described it to be "like crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a bathtub."
Really, for a lot of the process, it's just me a the blank screen or blank sheet of paper. The collaboration comes later, which is so frustrating as an extrovert. I like running to the living room and jumping on the couch next to my husband who is usually doing homework or playing video games. I show him that I wrote a paragraph or page (or even just a really cool image or simile), and I want to collaborate with him, tell him what a cool idea I had, and how I'm thinking about doing this other cool idea...what do you think?...oh! That's a great idea, too...maybe I can do that...but I really want to end up with this idea...so I think I'll go ahead and go with it and see where it goes...
After a bit of chat, I sprint back to the computer room, write for a little and then run back to collaborate some more. This is probably very exhaustive to my introvert husband (even though he says I'm adorable each time I do it). It also slows down the process, which is why I think I probably should stop it.
Once again to use Stephen King, I really need to just "shut the door," while I write. These quick chats with my husband, though stimulating and invigorating, slows the process of completing my projects. At this rate, I'm never going to finish a book. I'm barely able to squeak out poems, and I've only really written one successful short story from start to finish.
Read Part 2
After asking directions from the librarian, I turned the corner and saw a large wooden door to the left. I opened it and walked into a conference-looking room, which surprised me because I didn't realize the library had such rooms. A woman in the far corner fussed with a standing camera, and several people sat scattered throughout the rectangular room, some on their phones, others sitting quietly with pads of paper on their desks in front of them. No one talked.
I had to make a decision. Would I sit where the camera could see me or sit in the back? I decided to get the most out of the workshop and chose a seat near the front. That is, until I recognize a retired ESL teaching colleague of mine a couple rows back. I hadn't seen her for over a year! I quickly moved to sit by her and chatted quietly. I told her about my drumming, writing and everything else.
In conjunction with the Writer in Residence program I told you about, my local library is offering free writing workshops to the community. The first one this month was called, "More than 5 senses: How to write Great Description," taught by Tom Leveen.
Smelling Darth Vader
My friend and I stopped our conversation mid-sentence because a man in a baseball cap, t-shirt and jeans in the front of the room announced loudly and rapidly that it was time to start the workshop. He paced in front of the room, holding a water bottle and introduced himself as Tom Leveen. He said he was going to go through some guidelines (not rules!) for writing captivating description and encouraged us to take notes.
Tom started by asking us what Darth Vader smelled like. People shouted out things like "oil, metal, burned toast," and other things. He told us that he asked a similar question to some middle schoolers not long ago. He asked them what the joker (from Batman) smelled like. Kids said, "blood, fire," and other such things. Then, he said, he saw one girl in the middle of the room thinking very hard about the question. She said confidently, "vanilla and lavender."
Tom said he was taken back and thought, she really doesn't understand what I'm asking here! Instead of calling her stupid, which is what he wanted to do, he said something like, "Oh! That's an interesting perspective. Why do you say that?"
"Because," the girl said, "that's the last thing you'd expect." Tom was floored. Bam. She got it.
As writers, we naturally go for sight when describing a scene. It's the simplest in a lot of ways. How often do I write about smell, touch, taste, and sound?
Tom encouraged us to add at least one non-visual description per page, which I plan to take to heart. Smell, I believe, is particularly powerful. My creative writing teacher Josh says that smell links us to our memories. When I smell pine sol, for example, I remember my mom growing up. She likes having a very clean kitchen.
We have more than 5 senses
Tom Leveen says there's more than just 5 senses. Think about these:
1. Temperature (This is not touch!)
2. Pain (Not the feeling you get when you touch your hot car, but feeling pain in your appendix.)
3. Equolibrio (Sense of balance)
4. Pro-peroseption (relation of body to itself)
He went through these super fast, as with everything else, but I managed to jot them down so I can reflect and test them out.
As promised, he gave us 8 guidelines (not rules!) for writing fiction successfully. I'm not going to include them here because my notes are kind of a mess and it would take me forever to type it all out, but I will tell you that it felt like a crash-course for writing fiction, and it was awesome!
Q and A
After our crash-course in description writing, he opened the floor for questions. A couple people asked about publishing, finding an agent, that kind of thing. One person asked about how to write the Point of View (POV) of a teen or young adult to which he talked about syntax and paragraph sizes.
One woman sitting on the back row asked about scoring interviews for research. Tom gave his go-to answer which is social media. He told her to ask on Facebook. If that doesn't work, there's always absoluewrite.com, or poisonpen.com. Out of curiosity, he asked who she was hoping to talk to. She said a coroner. A man on the far left near the camera raised his hand. He was holding a business card. "I'm retired," he said. "But I used to work as a coroner." Everyone cheered as the woman stood and took the business card.
I asked Tom about the writing process. As you may already know, I'm super interested in it right now. I'm desperately searching for my style to writing longer prose. He told me that I don't have writer's block. No one gets writer's block. It's not a thing. He said, "you have project-block." I told him what Bill Konigsberg told me about writing chapter 1 the first day, revising chapter 1 and writing chapter 2 the next day... etc.
"It's not working for me," I said.
"It sounds awful," he said. "I don't write linear like that." Then he said, "Don't be afraid to waste words. That's what they're there for." I think Josh said something like that before. Or maybe it was Anne Lemott. I can't remember. "Jump in anywhere!" he told me. "Maybe you want to write a fight scene today, which isn't going to show up until later in the book. Go for it! Put two characters from different stories in one room and see what happens. Trust your style!" He encouraged me to make an outline. Once the book is finished, I can go through the hero's journey and add in elements that might be missing.
So, that was the workshop. I encourage you to look to your community and see what's going on. Maybe our library is just awesome, but I bet there's things going on near you. Even though writing "is like crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a bathtub," (to quote Steven King) there are opportunities for writers to get together and talk about the craft. Who knows? You might meet a retired coroner.
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"There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down... and bleed."
"Mongkok Street, Hong Kong"